United front defends ESL

A GROUP of academics, educators and community workers are collaborating to campaign for future English as a second language classes in Fairfield schools.

The ESL and refugee education working party has been campaigning to see the state government allocate tied funding to ESL programs in the area, which has more refugee and migrant schoolchildren than anywhere else in the state.

University of New South Wales school of education research fellow Michael Michell, who is a member of the group, said the campaign was vital because the new state government legislation, Local Schools, Local Decisions, introduced this year, may threaten local ESL programs.

"Principals will decide whether or not they want to continue their ESL classes," Dr Michell said. "The funding won't be tied to ESL specifically, so a principal may decide to prioritise something else above it. This legislation is a cost-cutting exercise in the long run."

He said the positions of hundreds of teachers' aids who used to train and support ESL teachers had already been cut and that their work would be taken on by three people in the Department of Education.

Education Minister Adrian Piccoli wrote back to the group's correspondence recently saying that "effective educational support for migrant and refugee students remains a priority in NSW government schools".

"The Local Schools, Local Decisions reform is designed to give schools more authority to make decisions that are responsive to the needs of their students and encourages them to consult more closely with their local communities," Mr Piccoli said.

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